Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Negative Influences of Islam in Africa

In the last blog post, we examined some of the negative influences of Christianity in Africa. We should now turn our attention to some of the negative influences of Islam in Africa, of which there are many.

Black Muslim apologists often contend that, unlike Christianity, Islam teaches its adherents to defend themselves against violent attacks. These apologists point to Muslims that fought against slavery and other forms of oppression throughout history.

However, like Christianity, Islam is not "all good." North Sudan offers the best example of how extremist Muslims have harmed African people, identity, and culture. Though many people in North Sudan physically resemble Black people, they identify as Arabs, embracing the Arabic language, Arab dress, culture, etc. They have long oppressed the Black Sudanese of the South, literally enslaving many of them and killing many others. The mainstream media have given much attention to the plight of people in Darfur.

However, much less attention has been given to the Black people of the Nuba Mountains, who have also been victims of genocidal attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The government of Sudan denied them the right to vote, laid waste to their farms and villages and starved them.

This hatred against Black Africans in Sudan has been aided and abetted by the likes of the late Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was a racist, and like many of the Muslims in Sudan, he used the word "abd," or "slave," when referring to a Black person.

Sadly, many African Americans willingly ignored the plight of the Blacks of South Sudan and/or sided with the oppressors in Khartoum. Indeed, in the 1990s, leaders in Khartoum invited members of the Black press on a supposed "fact-finding mission," on which the government carefully controlled their every move. Most of the Black journalists bought it hook, line and sinker, and did not even report on what little they were permitted to see.

Nigeria also offers a great example of the negative aspects of Islam in Africa. In the 1990s, dictator Sani Abacha ruled the nation with an iron fist. He was opposed by Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of the Ogoni people. The Ogoni were fighting for land rights and against exploitation by wealthy oil companies.

Abacha sided with the oil companies and had Saro-Wiwa and about seven other Ogoni activists arrested on trumped up charges. They were eventually hanged amid a vast international outcry. However, Louis Farrakhan, a friend of Abacha, said that, considering that so many African Americans had been lynched in the U.S. during the 20th century, Americans should not express outrage about the hangings of a few Africans.

Muslims and Christians are constantly at war in Nigeria. Thousands have been killed in recent years. The south is predominantly Christian. In the predominantly Muslim north, there are 12 states under sharia law. This is despite the fact that Nigeria is a secular country with a secular constitution.

In Nigerian sharia states, amputations and death by stoning are permissable (though there have been no deaths by stoning to date). In September 2011, two men, Auwala Abubaka, 23, and Lawalli Musa, 22, were sentenced to be amputated in public, after pleading guilty to stealing a bull. In previous years, an illiterate woman found guilty of "adultery" was sentenced to death by stoning. (Due to international outrage, the woman was spared. In sharia courts, "adultery" oftentimes is, in actuality, fornication.)

Islam in Africa does not have to lead to conflict, oppression, or sharia. For example, Senegal is a predominantly Muslim nation. However, Christians and Muslims there get along very well. Such good relations were cemented by secular values promoted by Senegalese intellectuals with a firm foundation in French secular culture.

Like their reactionary Christian counterparts, reactionary Muslims are thoroughly homophobic. People having sex with members of the same sex can be put to death under sharia law in Nigeria. In African nations such as Malawi and Nigeria, reactionary Muslims and Christians are united in attempting to strengthen laws against homosexuality.

Christianity and Islam will continue to have great influence in Africa. Indeed, the Catholic Church has become dependent upon Africa to make up for the shortage of priests in the West. Africans in the Anglican Church are becoming increasingly infuential. It is up to secularists and progressive religionists to constantly battle against the negative and reactionary influences of religion wherever they rear their ugly heads. However, forward-thinking Africans must have the chief leadership roles in efforts to combat these insisdious and invidious ideas and actions on the African continent.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Freethought in Texas

By Naima Washington

October 6-9, 2011 marked the 4th
Annual Texas Freethought Convention.
This year’s event attracted more than
600 participants and was co-hosted by
the Atheist Alliance of America. The
theme was “From Grassroots to Global
Impact,” and according to Nike Lee,
the Alliance’s president, “We want this
[convention] to be a springboard for
local activism all over the United
States. This is a time for non-believers
to step forward, make their presence
known in their communities, and to
challenge the impression that all
Americans are religious zealots… we
need YOU to enlist in this effort and
become politically and socially active
in your own community.”

Paul Mitchell, president of the
Texas Freethought Convention echoed
these sentiments, “We want to keep
you engaged and have you come away
enriched and empowered with the
tools and ideas you need to take back
to your communities and make an
impact.” The convention program lists
22 sponsor s and friends who
assured its success; there was a film
festival; Camp Quest was on hand to
engage children and the Richard
Dawkins Foundation sponsored day
care services. There was a blood drive
held during the convention and the
League of Women Voters provided onsite
voter registration.

It was great to hear Christopher
Hitchens speak during Saturday’s
banquet as well as participate in a lively
Q&A session. He was also named by
the Atheist Alliance of America as this
year’s recipient of the Richard Dawkins
Award which was presented to Mr.
Hitchens by Richard Dawkins. There
were at least twenty other presenters at
the convention and needless to say, I
was unable to hear all of them. I did see
a few WASH members including
author, Donald Wright who lives in
Houston and is the Vice President of the
Humani s t s of Hous ton. Sikivu
Hutchinson, founder of Black Skeptics
of Los Angeles gave a dynamic
presentation where she explored the
relationships between race, class,
gender, and religion. Her latest book,
Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender
Politics, and the Values Wars, explores
these relationships even further. Many
other speakers gave presentations
including Eugenie C. Scott, Michael
Shermer, P.Z. Meyers as well as former
Marine and rapper, Greydon Square
whose music deals with atheism, social
and political criticism.

I met and was able to spend time
with some incredible people including
African American atheists many of
whom live in Texas and said this was
their first convention. There were many students present and
it’s probably safe to say that the Secular
Students Alliance can take credit for
that due to so much of their work on
campuses. The convention was
organized so that the SSA participation
was almost a convention within a
convention since the Alliance had many
specific programs and activities for
their members. Houston residents
probably outnumbered all other
attendees; however I did meet an
African American man who had
recently joined SSA. He was from
Spokane, Washington; another woman I
met flew in from Hong Kong for the
convention. One very dynamic speaker
was blogger, Sunsara Taylor, a writer
for Revolution newspaper as well as the
host of radio station WBAI’s program
entitled “Equal Time for Freethought.”
A radical, well-informed, and elegant
speaker, she was also very engaging as
she fielded questions and comments
after her presentation.

The accommodations and staff at
the Hyatt Regency were excellent, and
the organizers of the convention earned
a five-star rating. I am interested,
however, in what organizations do with
all of the information they collect when
registering people at conferences and
conventions. I see the potential to use
this information as a tool for helping
non-theists organize at the local level.
It would be easy enough to find out if
attendees would like to have their email
addresses shared with other
attendees in their cities and/or home
states. This would give people an
opportunity to meet after a conference
or convention since it is often
impossible to know how many atheists,
especially those who are unaffiliated,
live in any given area. I have no idea
who else from our area may have
attended the convention, and if we are
really intent on organizing people at the
local level, being able to get in touch
with them after the convention would
be helpful.

Even so, the convention presented
me with many opportunities to meet
many people, give out back issues of
the WASHline and to have a wonderful

Naima Washington is the secretary of
WASH and a member of the Board of

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Negative Influences of Christianity in Africa

Christianity has done much good in Africa. Christians have built roads, orphanages, schools, hospitals, etc. Many Christians in Africa have drawn upon their faith to survive and thrive, and to help their fellow human beings in numerous ways.

However, the ugly side of Chrisitianity in Africa cannot be ignored. U.S. missionaries have been especially influential in Africa. In the mid-1990s, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club made inroads into Zambia, which he labeled a Christian nation. Robertson and other theocrats planned to help set up a reactionary Christian theocracy there, to serve as a model for assuming control over the U.S.

Robertson established ties with then-president Frederick Chiluba. However, Chiluba and his wife were brought up on charges of mass corruption. They were found not guilty in a court in Zambia. However, in England, the former Zambian president was found guilty in a civil court of stealing $46 million.

Robertson also had designs on Zaire (now the Congo) while the brutal dictator Mobutu Sese Seko still ruled the country. (Mobutu allegedly stole between $3 billion and $5 billion from his people. ) Robertson was primarily interested in gaining access to the nation's diamond business. After Mobutu was driven from power in 1997, Robertson tried to establish ties to the new regime, to no avail.

In 2001, Robertson established ties with Charles Taylor, the infamous dictator of Liberia. Robertson was primarily interested in gaining access to that country's gold mines. However, Taylor was eventually put to death, and again, Robertson's designs on Africa were frustrated.

In the summer of 2010, Robertson made inroads into Zimbabwe, which is still largely under the sway of Robert Mugabe. (In 1995, Mugabe made history by becoming the first African head of state to publicly denounce gays. A group of gays and lesbians wanted to open a booth at an international book fair in the nation. Mugabe balked and said that gays were lower than pigs and dogs. Just imagine a Western leader making such a statement!)

Robertson established the American Center for Law and Justice. Members of this group have made efforts to help turn Zimbabwe into a Christian theocracy, with a strong emphasis upon discriminating against LGBTQI people and passing harsher laws against them.

Western faith healers have also invaded Africa. Africans in poor health lose faith in the medical profession and place it in Christ, thereby worsening their conditions. Amazingly, evengelists that have been exposed as frauds in the U.S., often go on to successfully ply their trade in Africa.

Western Christians have helped to strengthen a belief in witches among Africans. Those most likely to be charged with witchcraft are the most vulnerable members of society--young girls and elderly women.

According to humanist activist Leo Igwe of Nigeria, Adama Mamuda and Ibrahim Shehu Ganye were recently sentenced to two years in prison by a magistrate court in Bauchi State. They were found guilty of practicing witchcraft. They were ordered to pay monetary damages to Hafsatu Sani, their alleged victim.

In July, police inspector Matu Albasu arraigned the two for conspiracy and allegedly imprisoning Sani via withccraft for four years. Albasu told the court that Adama removed Sani's spirit and delivered it to Ganye. The court ordered the accused persons to return the spirit to its proper owner. The accused were forced to walk over the body of the alleged victim in the courtroom. Later, they were forced to go to the bush to procure traditional medicine for the alleged victim.

An entire book could be written on Christian-influenced homophobia in Africa. Over two-thirds of African nations have laws against homosexuality. Such laws mean that men that have sex with men (MSM), a major group at risk of contracting AIDS, are unable to be properly educated about the disease. This means that they will be unable to protect themselves against it, and that they will be unable to get proper medical treatment for it. (For example, because homosexuality is illegal, MSM are excluded from Uganda's successful efforts to combat AIDS. Many of those that come out of the closet are berated by medical staff.)

Since 2009, lawmakers in Uganda have been trying to pass an Anti-homosexuality Bill that would require the death sentence for "aggravated homosexuality" if a person that is HIV-positive has homosexual sex with a disabled person or a person under the age of 18. (It is also known as the "Kill the Gays" bill.)

In South Africa, some lesbians are victims of "corrective rape," in which men rape them in efforts to turn them into heterosexuals. There have been dozens of murders of lesbian women in South Africa since 1998. However, there have only been a few cases to reach the courts, and just a single conviction.

In Nigeria, for the past five years, lawmakers have been trying to pass a bill against "Same Gender" marriage. The bill would also target anyone who attends a same-gender ceremony or gathering, or anyone who sees and aids such a relationship.

According to a 2008 survey of 6,000 Nigerians conducted by Information for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, a mere 1.4 percent considered themselves to be tolerant of LGBTQI people.

It is certainly true that Christianity has brought about much good in Africa, and indeed, the world. However, what the 19th century freethinker said of the Catholic Church, can be said of Christianity in general. "In one hand she carrie[s] the alms dish, in the other, the dagger."

Next we will take a look at some of the negative influences of Islam in Africa.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Due to the great number of Black atheists that have come out of Harlem, I have decided to blog about them. My last posting focused on some of the women. Now I will focus on some of the men.

Claude McKay was one of the leading poets of the humanistic arts and literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s-1940s. He was raised a Catholic. However, he was exposed to atheism, freethought, and rationalism at an early age during his childhood in Jamaica. His older brother, U. Theo, was a freethinker and embraced Fabian socialism. U. Theo had contacts with influential British humanists, and he became a member of Britain's Rationalist Association. He read widely on rationalism. Eventually, young Claude founded an agnostics group composed of boys his age.

McKay's best-known poem is "If We Must Die." McKay was motivated to write the poem in response to deadly violence against Blacks by White supremacists. He called upon Black people to defend themselves rather than die "like hogs." Winston Churchill read the poem aloud (without properly accrediting McKay) to rally his people against the Germans during W.W. II.

Though McKay had been a nonbeliever for several years, he again embraced Catholicism near the end of his life.

Langston Hughes was widely regarded as Black America's poet laureate. His poetry influenced Martin Luther King, Lorraine Hansberry and numerous other prominent African Americans. His writings were wildly popular among the Black masses, from whom he drew his strength. He, too, was a major poet during the Harlem Renaissance.

In "Salvation" from his autobiography The Big Sea, Hughes discussed a negative experience with religion when he was about 13. He asked Jesus to come into his life and save him from sin. However, nothing happened, and he was devastated.

As an adult, Hughes wrote some works deemed blashpemous by critics. Two poems, "Goodbye Chrsist," and "Christ in Alabama," were strong targets of religious critics. Hughes's leading biographer, noted scholar Arnold Rampersad, wrote that Hughes was "secular to the bone." However, he loved the drama and passion of religion, such as the singing.

In personal correspondence to humanist writer Warren Allen Smith, Hughes stated that he was certainly nonreligious. However, he rejected the term "humanist," even though the term could certainly describe his life stance. Like Claude McKay, Hughes became increasingly religious in his later years.

Jean Toomer wrote what is widely regarded as the greatest masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane. The novel features non-religious characters that critique religion's hold upon African Americans. One character, Kabnis, refers to Blacks as "a preacher-ridden race."

Toomer attended lectures on atheism, science and numerous other topics. He was familiar with the work of Clarence Darrow and other agnostics of his day. He was very well-read in history, religion, and many other subjects, and drew upon his vast knowledge to add depth to his writing.

Carlos Cooks was the leader of the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement in Harlem during the 1960s. Cooks and other members of the group spoke on the streets of Harlem. They displayed red, black and green flags at their rallies and called for Black self-determination. They promoted atheism. However, the group was essentially reactionary, and they made homophobic comments and assumed other reactionary positions.

John Henrik Clarke was a major Afrocentric historian. He was the man behind Malcolm X: The Man and His Times, and other excellent books. He wrote the introduction, commentary, and bibliographic notes for the 1972 edition of anthropologist J.A. Rogers's World's Great Men of Color (2 volumes).

Clarke seemed to have believed in some vague concept of God. However, he was a strong critic of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He was highly critical of the late Libyan dictator Mu'ammer Gaddafi and Louis Farrakhan, calling them "fakers." He accused Gaddafi of using his oil money to buy African leaders. He said that Farrakhan is a theocrat, and that only a fool wants to live in a "religious" society. He was especially furious over Farrakhan's support of the slave-owning regime of mass murderers in North Sudan. Prior to the first Million Man March, Clarke said that as long as Farrakhan supported the regime in Khartoum, "I'm not marching anywhere with Farrakhan."

Joel Augustus Rogers spent over 50 years researching history and uncovering little-known facts about Black people throughout the world. He traveled to 60 nations and won numerous awards. He spoke at rallies organized by the Black nationalist Marcus Garvey. As an atheist, he believed that Black people should read more Nietzsche and less Jesus. He believed that Christianity did a great deal of harm to people of African descent. However, he generally thought highly of Islam.

Rogers's books include Africa's Gift to America, As Nature Leads, Nature Knows No Color Line, 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro, Your History: From the Beginning of Time to the Present, The Ku Klux Spirit, The Real Facts About Ethiopia, and Sex and Race (Three Volumes).

James Baldwin was one of the greatest essayists in U.S. history. His best-known work is The Fire Next Time. He wrote movingly and shockingly about race relations. During his youth, Baldwin was a preacher. He came to the conclusion that religion was phony at an early age. He was highly critical of Christianity. However, though he rejected the racial dogma of the Nation of Islam, he had a great deal of respect for its leaders, particularly Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.

Last but not least, Hubert Henry Harrison was one of the leading intellectuals of the early part of the 20th century. He was originally from St. Croix, a Caribbean island. He supported women's rights and human rights struggles throughout the world. He became an agnostic during his first ten years in New York City, and he was skeptical of paranormal claims.

According to Harrison's leading biographer, Jeffrey B. Perry, Harrison's New Negro Movement paved the way for Alain Locke's 1925 highly influential publication of The New Negro. Harrison's movement was embraced by the ordinary people and was political. Conversely, Locke's movement was not political, and it was embraced primarily by the middle class.

Harrison argued for the taxation of churches and in defense of the separation of church and state. He defended evolution and wondered how Black people could worship a White Jesus. He viewed Christianity as a major weapon used in the war against the poor. In Harlem, he sold books containing speeches of the 19th century freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll.

Harrison greatly influenced Marcus Garvey. He devised the first tripartite colored flag for unity. (Garvey would later develop the red, black and green flag.) Harrison promoted the idea of "Negro First" when he discovered that the socialists of his day put the interests of Whites before class interests. Harrison advocated armed self-defense against White supremacists. (Garvey would later popularize the expression, "The New Negro is ready for the Klan.")

Perry summed up Harrison well by stating that he "was the most class conscious of the race radicals, and the most race conscious of the class radicals. " (Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, (Vol. 1).

These are just some of the great Black atheist men of Harlem. Harlem has been home to groups of nontheists such as the Harlem Atheist Association and the Center for Inquiry/Harlem group. Harlem has hosted debates on the role of religion in the Black community and other important issues. Influential people from this community have long provided strong evidence that not all Black people embrace the God concept.

(For more information on great Black atheists of Harlem, see my first book African-American Humanism: An Anthology.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Great Black Women Atheists of Harlem

Not many years ago, I spoke at a standing room only event at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library System, in Harlem, New York. I was invited to discuss humanism and great humanists of African descent. As I was speaking, it dawned on me that I could have given a whole lecture discussing great non-religious Harlemites.

Harlem has been home to some remarkable non-religious women. Nella Larsen was a major writer during the humanistic arts movement known as the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s-1940s. In her novellas Quicksand and Passing, Larsen made her mark as one of the most important contributors to the movement.

In Quicksand, the author wrote about the oppressive nature of religious conversion. Helga Crane, the woman at the center of the story, is forced to embrace religion. However, religion only causes her psychic and emotional duress. Helga is not religious. On the contrary, she opposes the suffocating grip of the Black church. Yet, due to the overwhelming religious pressure, she marries the pastor of the church responsible for her conversion.

In the beginning, Helga tries to convince herself that she is happy. However, as time passes, she feels that she is being suffocated by religion and her life with the pastor. She comes to see how religion is a tool of oppression, not only for individuals, but for the poor and Black people, and especially African American women.

Another major leader of the Harlem Renaissance was Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was an anthropologist and novelist. She grew up in a very religious household and regularly attended church.

However, it was just a matter of time before she started asking questions and thought her way out of the faith. She had problems with the concept of sin, finding that to be sinful and human seemed to be one and the same. She did not understand how theists could profess love for a being that could not be perceived through the senses.

While in college, she studied history, philosophy, and the history of Christianity. It became obvious to her that Christianity, like the other religions, had human origins. She stopped praying and embraced a naturalistic worldview.

Hurston's writings profoundly influenced many African American female writers, including the Pultizer Prize-winning author and former Humanist of the Year laureate, Alice Walker. During her lifetime, Hurston was the most widely published African American woman author. Her most well-known works are Dust Tracks on a Road and Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The great playwright Lorraine Hansberry was another highly impressive non-religious Harlemite. Hansberry was born to Carl and Nannie Hansberry at Provident Medical Center on the South Side of Chicago. Her parents encouraged their children to think critically and to be actively engaged with political ideas.

Lorraine's uncle was the Africanist William Leo Hansberry, who encouraged her to read widely on Africa. He would sometimes bring students from Africa home for the holidays to meet Lorraine and her family. Lorraine read Jomo Kenyatta's Facing Mount Kenya so many times that she remembered entire pages. Such literature greatly influence her literary themes. She rejoiced the more she learned of African nations such as Kenya and Malawi gaining their political independence from neo-colonial powers. These developments also found their way into her writings.

Lorraine Hansberry is best known as the author of A Raisin in the Sun. Her play, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, influenced her friend, singer Nina Simone, to write an anthem of the same title.

However, Hansberry was also an activist. She fell in love with Harlem, and while living there, she joined the Harlem Youth Chorus and served as an usher at rallies in churches, and at the Golden Gate Ballroom. She spoke on 125th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Hansberry was a secular humanist, and was not primarily concerned with the question of why human beings exist. She was mainly interested in exploring how human beings ought to live. She believed it was up to human beings to impose reason upon their existence.

When Hansberry died from cancer at the age of 34, her funeral was held at the small Presbyterian Church of the Master in Harlem. Malcolm X was in attendance, and activist and actor Paul Robeson and actress Ruby Dee spoke. Martin Luther King sent a message of condolence.

Last but not least, Florynce ("Flo") Rae Kennedy was one of the most dynamic leading second-wave feminists. Kennedy was a lawyer, political activist, and an opponent of racism, homophobia, militarism, nuclear weapons, police brutality, the war on drugs, corporate greed, etc.

Kennedy, the second of five daughters, was born to Wiley and Zella Kennedy, in Kansas City, Missouri. In essence, her parents taught her and her sisters to disobey authority, a lesson that Flo learned extremely well. Years later, after her mother died, Flo and her sister Grayce moved to an apartment in Harlem.

Flo attended Columbia University. However, when she tried to apply to Columbia Law School, she was denied entry because of her sex. She threatened to sue, and won admission. In 1951, she was the second African American woman to graduate from the law school (the first was Elreda Alexander in 1945).

As an attorney, Flo defended the Black militant H. Rap Brown and a female member of the Black Liberation Front. Both were charged with bank robbery. She also defended radical activist Assata Shakur and Black Panthers charged with conspiracy to commit bombings.

Flo was a member of NOW and worked closely with leading feminist Gloria Steinem. She left NOW to form the Feminist Party, which nominated African American Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm for President.

Flo also supported some unusual causes. She fought for the decriminilization of prostitution, and she led a mass urination on the campus grounds of Harvard to protest that institution's lack of bathrooms for women.

By the late 1980s, Flo had had two heart attacks and three strokes. She had to use a wheelchair. However, she had still not lost her sense of humor. She would hold memorial parties for herself to see what people would say about her after she died. She eventually died on December 22, 2000, at the age of 84.

These are just some of the fascinating figures of non-theism from Harlem. Later, we will learn about some of the fascinating male figures from the Mecca of Black America.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Islam and the Rest of Us

On November 3, 2011, the Associated Press reported that the offices of the satirical weekly publication, Charlie Hedbo, in Paris, France, were firebombed. The director of the weekly publication issued an "invitation" to the Prophet Muhammad to be its guest editor. Evidently, some Muslim extremists did not find the joke to be very amusing.

The issue of the publication was centered around the recent victory of Tunisia's Islamist party in that nation's first free elections, and by the move by Libya's new leaders to implement Sharia law in their country. Evidently, in response to the reference to Muhammad, an angry zealot threw a molotov cocktail into the offices of the publication.

This is not the first time that intolerant Muslims have carried out violence in the name of their supposedly peaceful God. Islamic law usually forbids depictions of the Prophet, even positive images.

When a Danish publication depicted images of Muhammad a few years ago (one of them featuring the Prophet with a bomb tied to his head), angry Muslims all over the world reacted with death threats and violence.

Perhaps the most infamous Muslim furor arose when Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses. The Ayatollah Khomeni (aslo know as the Ayatollah Khomaniac) of Iran issued a fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie. The author was forced into hiding.

However, Rushdie had his many defenders, among them Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka of Nigeria. The African secular humanist stated that if any harm came to Rushdie, the world should bomb Iran with "pastiches" of The Satanic Verses. For expressing his opinion, Muslim leaders in Kano, in northern Nigeria, issued a fatwa against Soyinka. And so it goes.

It obviously doesn't take much to infuriate Muslim religious nuts. Not long ago, a Western teacher in Afghanistan was persecuted for agreeing to name a teddy bear Muhammad. (That's right! A freakin' teddy bear!) The bear was actually named after a young boy named Muhammad, not the Prophet.

In Nigeria, a woman was terrorized and threatened with death for saying that, were Muhammad alive, he would have approved of the Miss World Contest, which was scheduled to be held in Nigeria. (Due to threats of violence, Miss World officials held the contest in another country.)

Theo Van Gogh, a Muslim critic in the Netherlands, was grotesequely murdered for criticizing Islam. Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali was threatened with death by Muslim fanatics in Holland for the same offense.

I have only mentioned examples of Muslim intolerance. That is because when people from other faiths or worldviews are offended when their deeply cherished beliefs are attacked, they generally respond in a civilized manner. For example, when conservative Christians are infuriated by such images as "The Piss Christ" (a crucifix dipped in urine), or a film which negatively depicts their faith, they simply protest nonviolently. Likewise, you never hear of Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Unitatian Universalists, tradional African religionists, and others killing or threatening to kill those that have allegedly commited blasphemy or some related vicitimless crime. Of course, needless to say, there is no secular humanist equivalent of blasphemy for which offenders must be killed.

Exremist Muslims are easily offended. Indeed, they seem to be constantly on the hunt for ideas and actions to drive them crazy, no matter how mundane. They obviously have too much time on their hands. They demand that they be held to different standards than everyone else. They scoff at any democratic ideal calling for genuine freedom of speech and expression. They have a seventh-century mentality, and they are proud of it.

What is especially sad is that these religious hypocrites demand religious liberty in the defense of Islam. For example, though they think nothing of crushing freedom of speech and expression, they demand that Muslims in the West be able to build mosques wherever they see fit. They rushed to the defense of moderate Muslims wishing to build an Islamic center in Manhattan near Ground Zero. (Yet, they believe that is just fine and dandy that Christians cannot even preach in Saudi Arabia, let alone build churches there.) That is to say, they defend freedom of religion (though only for Muslims), but oppose freedom of speech and expression for the rest of us. They insist upon having it both ways.

What is the best way to respond to this blatant religous hypocrisy? Some people participate in blasphemy days in order to show their belief in freedom of expression. The main problem with this kind of reaction is that such actions are often sponsored by intolerant Islamophobes. It is important to understand the importance of standing up to Muslim extremist bullies without being lowered to their standards.

Freedom-loving people should always rush to the defense of victims of religious bullies. This could include purchasing copies of the "offending" works to let the bullies know that they cannot win. (I still have the copy of The Satanic Verses that my mother bought for me.) People should write letters to the editors of publications to demonstrate their outrage at religious intolerance. Bloggers should defend freedom of expression. People should engage in mass protests in defense of liberty. Non-Muslims should hold dialogues with moderate and progressive Muslims to foster mutual understanding. Last but not least, vicitims of religious violence should understand that they are well within their rights to defend themselves. Religious bigots should never be given the moral sanction to terrorize and kill their victims.

The bottom line is that religions--including religious images--do not deserve respect or protection any more than do political ideas, secular philosophies, etc. People and their rights must be respected and protected, and all freedom-loving people should stand united under that sterling ideal.